Monday, June 20, 2016

Step-by-Step Revising

What steps should I use when I begin to revise?

Here are several things to do. But don’t try them all at one time. Instead, focus on two or three main areas during each revision session.

Wait awhile after you’ve finished a draft before looking at it again. The Roman poet Horace thought one should wait nine years, but that’s a bit much. A day—a few hours even—will work. 

When you do return to the draft, be honest with yourself, and don’t be lazy. Ask yourself what you really think about the paper.

As The Scott, Foresman Handbook for Writers puts it, “THINK BIG, don’t tinker” (61). At this stage, you should be concerned with the large issues in the paper, not the commas.

Check the focus of the paper: Is it appropriate to the assignment? Is the topic too big or too narrow? Do you stay on track through the entire paper?

Think honestly about your thesis: Do you still agree with it? Should it be modified in light of something you discovered as you wrote the paper? Does it make a sophisticated, provocative point, or does it just say what anyone could say if given the same topic? Does your thesis generalize instead of taking a specific position? Should it be changed altogether? ...

Think about your purpose in writing: Does your introduction state clearly what you intend to do? Will your aims be clear to your readers?

If you want help putting those steps into action, just reply here or book an appointment with us by clicking this link!


Tuesday, May 24, 2016

"Schooling Grammar Checkers": Making Smart Use of Machine Response to Writing

Sometimes writers and scholars ask me about grammar and spelling checkers, or tell me about a new one they discovered online. Sometimes they pay for these services, and sometimes not.

My response is always to listen carefully with interest because what they are really telling me is about what they know about writing and writing tools. My first general reply is that I pay attention to spellcheck and grammar check suggestions, but I always evaluate them critically. They are not always correct. However, they can provide some insight into writing if used thoughtfully. My second general reply is that I never pay for these services because there is not an automated spelling and grammar tool for purchase that is any better than free ones like MS Word’s or Google Docs’.

Today, I read a brief but well researched and practical blog entry by Composition scholar/professor Nick Carbone that addresses this topic very well, and I thought it’d be of interest to everyone who writes or teaches writing. 


Friday, May 13, 2016

Hayden's Reflection: Peer Review

I’ve always felt that peer reviewing is an incredibly helpful and important part of the writing process. I really do enjoy giving that feedback and criticism as a writing tutor. Peer reviewing is important for a number of reasons, and a specific consultation really brought this point to light. Someone came in asking for help with a paper. She said that she had just finished an in-class peer review, and I thought, “Great, it’ll be nice to see what others have said.” However, this person’s paper didn’t have a single marking on it. This person was incredibly frustrated because this had happened before, and when she turned in a previous paper, the grade wasn’t what she had expected.

In my own tutoring sessions, I try to give as much feedback as possible while teaching students how to find mistakes in their own papers and in the works of others. Peer reviewing is incredibly important for a number of reasons other than having someone proofread a paper.

Because you wrote the paper, you certainly have an emotional connection to it (even if it’s just a tiny connection). This can make it difficult to see some possible glaring mistakes.

Another problem is the fact that you are always writing for an audience; while your paper may sound great and structured and ready for print, it may not be effective for your audience. Having peer review sessions is a good way to gauge whether you have an effective draft on your hands.

Lastly, after you’ve spent countless hours on a paper, it’s easy to just glaze over it without really thinking about it—trust me, I know. Peer reviews always give your paper a fresh set of eyes that will (hopefully) analyze your paper quite closely.

In my own writing process, I take peer review sessions seriously and try my best to give others the feedback that I would want them to give me. It’s important to have this feedback because without it, I wouldn’t write successful papers; that’s simply the truth of the matter.


Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Writing an Introduction Paragraph

The Writing Center addresses a number of writing concerns each and every day. One of the most enduring questions I’m asked about is how to address writing an introduction paragraph. I’ve always found that it’s more difficult to start a paper than it is to finish it. When I give advice on how to write introductions, I keep a couple of specific pointers in mind.

When I took AP English in high school, my teacher (I thank the heavens for her every day) told me to think about introductions as an upside down triangle. This is a representation of the graphic she showed the class:

Any time a student asks for help with introductions, I draw out this graphic because it helps me a tremendous amount in my own writing. I also tell students that even though introductions come first in the paper, they don’t have to be written first. It’s often quite helpful to not write the introduction until you’re entirely done with your paper. The most important aspect of the introduction is your thesis; with that, you can write your paper without even thinking about the introduction. Writing an introduction can be difficult because you’re not entirely sure what you’re going to write about until you do start writing. Start with the thesis, body paragraphs, or even conclusion and work from there. The writing process isn’t set in stone; there are multiple ways to approach academic writing. 


Monday, May 9, 2016

Farewell and Happy Trails

Dear RSU writers,

I have learned so much from you all and appreciate all that you've shared with me. (Yes, this is a note where I give you some sad-ish news.)

I would like to announce very publicly--though many people already know and it is not a secret--that I will be leaving Rogers State University June 30th because I have accepted the position of Writing Program Director and Applied Assistant Professor of English at the University of Tulsa, just down the road from Claremore, to begin July 1.

I have served as Writing Center Coordinator and Writing Instructor here at RSU since August of 2012. Over the last four years, I taught several sections of Composition I and II, as well as one of Topics in Advanced Composition. I worked alongside Writing Center Consultants Meggie, Brook, Holly, Laurie, Jessica, Kali, Wes, McKinze, Abby, Aubrey, Devon, Erika, Jalexa, Madison, Hayden, Mary, Kayla, Michael, Tessa, Mary S., Burgundi, and Amanda.

I sat down and met with writers in person, over email, over the phone, or via Skype 1,088 times.

Each and every time, the discussions were different. All writers come from different places-- physically, emotionally, intellectually, spiritually. They talk about their academic ideas and worries, as well as those about their families and friends. At some point, we look at each other in the eye and make a connection, whether its deep or shallow, lengthy or brief. Sometimes I never saw that writer again, others we met regularly from there on out.

Each and every time, I learned something new about the world and about the person writing right next to me. I learned about botany, nursing, personnel, incarceration in the U.S., accounting and financing, art theory, legal history, the value of a college education, service learning, how to apply for medical or law school, literature, philosophy, comparative religion, theater, painting, sports management, social psychology, sociological theory, education, assessment and accountability, and so much more.

Thank you for opening up to me and for letting me walk around with you in the garden of your mind. The seasons will always change, but we can always choose to experience the moment and to grow as thinkers, readers, writers, and people who take care of our families and communities.

Be well,
Sara Beam
You can find me at my Facebook Teacher Page

P.S. My next post will be about the incoming Writing Center Coordinator. I know they will cultivate this place of learning well!

McKinze's Reflection

My time in the Writing Center has taught me so much about working with others, reflecting in on myself, and about writing in general. Many students have come in asking for help with outlining or even simply understanding the assignment. I have found that one of the most helpful tips has been to analytically read the assignment sheets and try to gain a deep understanding of what the professor is asking the student to do. Along with fully understanding the prompt, the importance of pre-writing and outlining have also been main topics in my appointments this semester.

Personally, I have found creating an outline in the pre-writing phase to be effective, especially when I start typing a paper. If I have the paper set up logically with my main ideas and supporting details, it is much easier to make the paper flow smoothly and the writing process is actually quicker. Visually seeing what the ideas are and how they are connected them makes it easy to spot any issues with transitions and coherency.

Adding these two steps to my own writing process has really helped me organize my papers and has also made writing a much easier and faster process.

To any students who are having trouble thinking of a topic for their papers or getting started on writing their papers, I would strongly recommend utilizing outlines. Trying jotting down some ideas and thinking about what you could do with them in your assignment. By doing this, you can see what could and could not work and you would also be able to gauge your own interest in the topic. This is also a good place to work in evidence from sources, which will help greatly when the actual writing of the paper begins. If you have trouble figuring out how to organize the paper, write down all the main points you want to hit, then plug them into a logical outline.

Adding these two small steps to your writing process will greatly aid in the development of any paper.


Friday, April 15, 2016

[Sic] Happens

As a student and a writing consultant, I’m always learning how I can improve my writing. This semester, I learned that [sic] happens--specifically, I learned how and why [sic] happens. I’ve come across [sic] as a reader, but I’ve never taken the time to find out what it really means.

Recently, I quoted passages from Cormac McCarthy’s The Road in my Capstone paper. If you haven’t read The Road . . .
          a. You should.
          b. McCarthy intentionally omits apostrophes from most contractions in the work.

For example, one passage reads, “You should thank him you know . . .  I wouldnt have given you anything” (McCarthy 173).

When including a quote in your paper, it’s important to write the passage exactly as it appears in the original work, and indicate any changes (capitalization, punctuation, etc.) by placing brackets around them. In this paper, I preferred to leave McCarthy’s intentionally unpunctuated contractions alone. Someone who hasn’t read The Road may believe I made a hasty error when typing McCarthy’s words. To clarify that I copied McCarthy’s passage exactly as it appears in the novel, I include [sic] after the unpunctuated contraction:

“You should thank him you know . . . I wouldnt [sic] have given you anything” (McCarthy 173).

According to Purdue OWL, sic is a Latin term for “so” or “thus” and should be used to indicate that you are presenting the quoted material exactly as it appears in the original work. Sic tells your readers that you haven’t made a typo; you have paid careful attention to the original author’s wording.

Just a few days after learning how and why to use [sic] in one of my papers, I had the opportunity to share this information in a writing consultation. Sharing what I’ve learned with others students is rewarding, and it strengthens my writing skills as well.

You can find more information on using [sic] and brackets at this link.


Work Cited
McCarthy, Cormac. The Road. New York: Vintage, 2006. Print.

Monday, February 8, 2016

The RSU Writing Center can help, even if you haven't started your paper yet!

Hi, all! Welcome back to another semester. A common question this semester that seems to have carried over from last semester is how to brainstorm and prewrite for assignments. Many students, especially freshmen, have never utilized any type of prewriting technique for their essays and this can cause problems in upper level courses when assignments can be more complex. Brainstorming and prewriting are effective and valuable for multiple reasons: they allow the writer to visually see the ideas, make connections between ideas, and organize the ideas in a logical manner. Many different steps to brainstorming and prewriting and multiple techniques can be applied. Some of these steps and techniques can be found in The Everyday Writer on pages 58-74.

The first step is to brainstorm by communicating ideas with others, freewriting, or even using more visual methods like clustering. From this phase, the writer can then narrow the topic and create some sort of tentative thesis that encompasses the idea of the paper. This can always be changed later but many professors require a working thesis statement before any drafts are crafted. The next step is to gather resources to support the topic of the paper, and that information must then be organized. This is usually where some students run into issues; a simple method to organizing main ideas and supporting points for an essay is to make some sort of outline or flow chart. Examples of these can be found on pages 71-73 of The Everyday Writer. After a plan has been made, it’s time to start writing!

The Writing Center also offers assistance for the brainstorming and prewriting steps of the writing process, so please set up an appointment with one of the tutors using All you have to do is sign in using your student email and password. We hope to see you soon and have a great semester!

-McKinze Hefner, RSU Writing Consultant

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Where do I start?!

For many students, including me, the most difficult step in the writing process is getting started. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve stared at an assignment sheet, thinking to myself, “I’ve got nothin’.” With practice – and patience – you’ll likely develop your own process and techniques for initiating the writing process, here are some things that help me:
Read the assignment instructions. Done? Good, now do it again. Some assignments include multiple requirements – very specific requirements. I find it useful to make a checklist of the requirements and review the list before I submit my paper.  
Write. Write something, anything. This isn’t your final draft, so don’t worry about it being perfect. If you have an idea for your paper, this is the time to write it down. It’s easy to think it, but it can be challenging to put those thoughts on paper, and that’s why prewriting can be beneficial. If the assignment lists questions or prompts to consider, try writing brief answers to get started. 
What do I do when I don’t have something to say right away? I write anyway! Even if it doesn’t answer the assignment’s topic or prompt, I always have an opinion – and you do, too! If my assignment is to write a critical analysis of a selected text, I jot down my initial opinion, my reaction to the reading, and any comments I have. Even if you don’t think these ideas will be useful when writing your paper, they get you thinking about the topic of the assignment, and, who knows – later, you might come back to something you wrote and find that you can use it in your paper.  
I’ve got words…now, what? After prewriting and thinking about the assignment and topic, I start to think about how I’m going to present my information. I find that creating an outline, even a tentative outline, helps. I always include a bullet point for my introduction and my conclusion, but I never start there. Outlining helps me think about the order in which I want to present my information. After I outline my main points and sub points, I find that it’s much easier to tackle the writing little by little, focusing on one point at a time. 
For more tips on getting the writing process started, check out the University of Maryland University College’s Prewriting and Outlining page at this link. 

-Tessa Hill, RSU Writing Consultant

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

African American Poetry Workshop: Souls Who Speak and Listen

W. E. B. Du Bois' 1903 The Souls of Black Folk is a foundational text in the African American literary and cultural tradition. The opening to the book is a chapter called "Of Our Spiritual Strivings." You can find the entire chapter at this link; below is an excerpt of the text for reading and analysis. Notice that this is a first-person account of Du Bois' personal experiences. In it, he reflects on his interior life and his identity as a Black person in a society that privileges whiteness. 
BETWEEN me and the other world there is ever an unasked question: unasked by some through feelings of delicacy; by others through the difficulty of rightly framing it. All, nevertheless, flutter round it. They approach me in a half-hesitant sort of way, eye me curiously or compassionately, and then, instead of saying directly, How does it feel to be a problem? they say, I know an excellent colored man in my town; or, I fought at Mechanicsville; or, Do not these Southern outrages make your blood boil? At these I smile, or am interested, or reduce the boiling to a simmer, as the occasion may require. To the real question, How does it feel to be a problem? I answer seldom a word.
And yet, being a problem is a strange experience,—peculiar even for one who has never been anything else, save perhaps in babyhood and in Europe. It is in the early days of rollicking boyhood that the revelation first bursts upon one, all in a day, as it were. I remember well when the shadow swept across me. I was a little thing, away up in the hills of New England, where the dark Housatonic winds between Hoosac and Taghkanic to the sea. In a wee wooden schoolhouse, something put it into the boys’ and girls’ heads to buy gorgeous visiting-cards—ten cents a package—and exchange. The exchange was merry, till one girl, a tall newcomer, refused my card,—refused it peremptorily, with a glance. Then it dawned upon me with a certain suddenness that I was different from the others; or like, mayhap, in heart and life and longing, but shut out from their world by a vast veil. I had thereafter no desire to tear down that veil, to creep through; I held all beyond it in common contempt, and lived above it in a region of blue sky and great wandering shadows. That sky was bluest when I could beat my mates at examination-time, or beat them at a foot-race, or even beat their stringy heads. Alas, with the years all this fine contempt began to fade; for the worlds I longed for, and all their dazzling opportunities, were theirs, not mine. But they should not keep these prizes, I said; some, all, I would wrest from them. Just how I would do it I could never decide: by reading law, by healing the sick, by telling the wonderful tales that swam in my head,—some way. With other black boys the strife was not so fiercely sunny: their youth shrunk into tasteless sycophancy, or into silent hatred of the pale world about them and mocking distrust of everything white; or wasted itself in a bitter cry, Why did God make me an outcast and a stranger in mine own house? The shades of the prison-house closed round about us all: walls strait and stubborn to the whitest, but relentlessly narrow, tall, and unscalable to sons of night who must plod darkly on in resignation, or beat unavailing palms against the stone, or steadily, half hopelessly, watch the streak of blue above.

After the Egyptian and Indian, the Greek and Roman, the Teuton and Mongolian, the Negro is a sort of seventh son, born with a veil, and gifted with second-sight in this American world,—a world which yields him no true self-consciousness, but only lets him see himself through the revelation of the other world. It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his two-ness,—an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.   
The history of the American Negro is the history of this strife,—this longing to attain self-conscious manhood, to merge his double self into a better and truer self. In this merging he wishes neither of the older selves to be lost. He would not Africanize America, for America has too much to teach the world and Africa. He would not bleach his Negro soul in a flood of white Americanism, for he knows that Negro blood has a message for the world. He simply wishes to make it possible for a man to be both a Negro and an American, without being cursed and spit upon by his fellows, without having the doors of Opportunity closed roughly in his face.

One issue I have not yet addressed in blog series is my own whiteness and the issue of race at RSU, where, according to the 2014 Fact Book, around 60% of students identify as white, 5% as Hispanic, 13% as "American Indian or Alaska Native," 1% as Asian, 17% as multiracial, and 2.4% as Black (page 22). How can a white writer (or a non-Black reader) best share a literary tradition that they are not a part of? How can I build awareness in myself about the privileges that come with my race? Furthermore, as a teacher playing a role of authority in the institution of education, how can I best model and instruct others about why race and allyship matter and how to be an ally in a useful, genuine manner? 

These questions have followed me throughout the course of this series. My answers and strategies evolve every day, but my main strategy is LISTENING to voices that have traditionally been giving less attention or afforded less authority and AMPLIFYING those voices by sharing some of them here. Even the act of selecting whose voice is shared is a political act! Blogger/Vlogger Chescaleigh helps people think about and do allyship (and all sorts of other topics on race) in her video series Decoded. Below is her video "5 Tips for Being an Ally" that I highly recommend you check out:

So, please, return to the top of the page and re-read Du Bois' words. Re-read Angelou and Chisholm; re-read Adichie and Walker; re-read Baldwin and Cullen; re-read hooks, Beyonce, and Lorde.

Questions for Du Bois' excerpt:

1. In what ways do these paragraphs function as a lead-in to a larger book? How do they set up a certain tone using word choice, and how to they attempt to "hook" or draw readers into a larger conversation?

2. Again, why does this author use the rhetorical strategy of relating personal details? What is the effect of sharing his subjective experience?

3. What kind of figurative language does Du Bois use to describe his experiences? Identify and explain metaphors, similes, descriptive language, alliteration (repeated consonant and/or vowel sounds), repeated wording or phrases, and allusions (or references to other works of literature or texts) in the text.